Posted: Friday February 10, 2006 2:13PM; Updated: Monday February 13, 2006 2:32AM
Ooooh-inspiring: The Winter Olympics lend their own special brand of agony to defeat.
TURIN, Italy -- What am I most looking forward to? Well, after about 70 minutes of loitering around a baggage carousel at the Turin airport on Thursday, my answer was: getting my freaking luggage. Not that I' d want to interrupt Luigi the baggage handler's cigarette break(s). Because, really, what's another hour when you've already been traveling for 18?
Now that I've finally secured my possessions, I look forward to seeing the charms of this industrial city -- charms that eluded me on the lengthy bus trip to the main press center.
"I came straight from the Super Bowl," a writer from the St. Petersburg Times told me as we motored past factories and endless blocks of uninspired high-rise apartment buildings. "Detroit is prettier."
Before I change out of my crankypants and let the Olympic spirit overwhelm me, let me bare my black soul and tell you what I'm really looking forward to.
Sue me -- and cue The Surfaris. For obvious reasons, the Winter Games are the Wipeout Games. Snow and ice: slippery. I don't feel overly guilty about my fascination with these yard sales. They're going to happen whether we wish them on anyone or not. We might as well rubberneck.
Where to look for spectacular biffs? Bode Miller's been running his mouth quite a bit lately, without backing it up. The alpine gods may decide that it's his turn to catch a tip on a gate and go cartwheeling into a klatch of cowbell-wielding Euros. I was with Lance Armstrong a couple weeks ago for an upcoming story when Rolling Stone came out with Miller's accusations of Armstrong and Barry Bonds. Armstrong batted around a possible response -- "Back off the sauce, Bode" and "Who the hell is Bode Miller?" spring to mind -- before deciding that Miller didn't merit one.
I was at the halfpipe in Bardonecchia for Thursday morning's training session. There were a lot of butt checks -- boarders coming in too hard, losing an edge, bouncing on their backsides -- but no epic, Oooooh-inducing crash-and-burns.
At one point American rider Andy Finch launched about 15 feet over the pipe and hit the deck on the descent, briefly accordioning his body. He bounced up and finished the run with a smile on his face.
The real crash test dummies at these Games compete in a freestyle discipline called aerials -- the one where they go off a ramp called a "kicker" that shoots them 30 or 40 feet in the air. They spin and flip and pray they're going to land on their skis. Too often, they don't.
These people have so many screws holdng their bones together that they take their coffee with Rustoleum. But don't take my word for it. Let's go to the Turin Games' "info 2006" intranet, click on "aerials" and then "athlete biographies."
The first full-length bio is that of Jeff Bean, a Canadian who, alas, "fractured his C7 vertebra" while training in 2004. At a World Cup event in '99, we learn, Bean landed "on his face . . . On the ensuing tumble, he broke his right leg in four places."
Who's next? American Eric Bergoust "shattered his collarbone on a training run" in '97, requiring eight screws and a metal plate. It actually says "mental plate" in his official Olympic bio.
Let's check in on Alisa Camplin, the plucky Aussie who is the defending Olympic gold medalist. Camplin's 2005-06 season was disrupted by "a repeat ACL tear" last October. 'Has sustained many concussions . . . After one accident, had to be helicoptered off the slope." Camplin, who has also sustained a broken collarbone, broken hand, separated shoulder, dislocated sternum and a torn Achilles during her career, won the gold medal in 2002 despite competing with broken bones in both ankles.
A mental plate should be part of the required gear for this sport. That's why, when the editors ask who wants to cover it, I'll have my hand in the air.